geary mccandless audiologist

Geary A. McCandless (1930 -2017), Audiologist and Renaissance Man

by Jerry L. Northern, PhD and Darrel L. Teter, PhD

geary mccandless audiologist
Geary McCandless, PhD

Audiology lost an illustrious leader from the Golden Age of Audiology (1960 – 1990) with the passing of Geary McCandless on January 4, 2017.  Those who knew him recognized his talents as a modern Renaissance man, i.e., a cultured person who is well informed, educated, and proficient in a wide range of fields.  Dr. McCandless was interested and knowledgeable in a broad variety of topics related to hearing, auditory science and beyond.His research reflected his innovative and original thinking about the challenging topics of his day.He was an outdoor enthusiast and adventurer and successful in every activity he attempted, ranging from archeology to aviation to painting beautiful southwestern landscapes in oils. 

Dr. McCandless retired from the University of Utah in 2002 as a Professor Emeritus after a distinguished career spanning over 40 years.  He received his Masters Degree in Audiology from BYU in 1956 and his PhD from Wayne State University in 1959 studying under John Gaeth.  He earned his BA and Masters degrees at Brigham Young University in 1953 and 1956 respectively.  His first position was Director, Hearing Testing and Child Study Center at the New Mexico School for the Deaf in Santa Fe. Dr. McCandless went on to hold several faculty and administrative appointments including Associate Professor at the University of Colorado Medical School; Head of Audiology, Division of Otolaryngology at University of Utah; Associate Dean and Interim Dean of the College of Health and Acting Chair, Department of Communicative Disorders at the University of Utah.

We were young doctoral students when Geary McCandless arrived in Denver in 1964 from the New Mexico School for the Deaf.  His task was to establish a hearing research laboratory at the University of Colorado Medical Center.  Dr. McCandless immediately became the local audiology guru and hearing science expert and we were absolutely in awe of his knowledge and skills.  We were excited to get to know him and learn from his experiences and interests.  He openly welcomed us into his laboratory, shared his equipment with us, advised and helped us with our dissertations, and ultimately became our life-long friend as he mentored and counseled us throughout our careers. 

A Prolific Career

Geary published more than 90 articles and 40 book chapters and presented hundreds of invited lectures.   Dr.McCandless was one of the most popular speakers on the national and international circuit of auditory-related meetings during his 40 year career.  He was a perpetual faculty member of numerous scientific and professional programs including 30 years of participation in the Colorado Audiology-Otology Conference (popularly known as “the audiology ski meeting”), 20 years as a speaker in the International Hearing Aid Seminar held annually in San Diego and directed by Robert Sandlin, and two decades on the program of the infamous Jackson Hole Rendezvous, hosted by Michael Marion.  His clinical and research reports were both educational and entertaining while reflecting his innovative and original thinking about the challenging topics of his day.  Through his professional years he often served as a consultant to industry, helping them develop and evaluate new products including hearing aids, cochlear implants, and a wide assortment of audiometric equipment. 

During the early and mid-1960s, Dr. McCandless was among the first to investigate the utilization of computerized cortical evoked responses as a clinical procedure.  Working with an early hand-made signal averaging-computer (about the size of a small suitcase) his initial research projects were with slow latency evoked responses. He pioneered research in 1964 on the use auditory evoked potentials in children (especially use of “late waves”) and helped to develop the computerized instrumentation to record these potentials for auditory diagnosis.  His publications provided the groundwork for standardization of testing protocols in use today in terms of best electrode placement, effects of frequency and stimulus variations and presentation, sedation, in the technique known then as electroencephalographic audiometry, later to be known as evoked response audiometry (ERA).  He also conducted research which helped establish normative standards for acoustic immittance measurements and its application in diagnosing middle ear disease.  Geary was especially interested in hearing aid research and was responsible (along with Paul Lyragaard) for developing the POGO prescriptive method for hearing aid fitting.  His research on the Symbion Ineraid Cochlear Implant helped to demonstrate the benefits of multi-channel implants over single channel devices.

Dr. McCandless is perhaps best recognized for his research and publications with hearing aids and amplification.  He was among the first to advocate “open ear molds” to reduce sound pressure at the tympanic membrane through large vents, thereby reducing potential noise induced hearing loss.  Geary, along with Paul Lyragaard, developed the widely used prescriptive method for hearing aid fitting known as POGO (Prescription of Gain and Output). He developed a widely used, user-gain-based hearing aid fitting protocol and suggested using the onset of the stapedius reflex to set the output limit of hearing aids fitted to infants and young children.  He served as a consultant to numerous hearing aid companies throughout his career.He recommended and tested the fitting algorithms for Songbird, the world’s first disposable hearing aid, along with the fitting selector used by dispensers to select the appropriate response and gain levels for the device.

But the extensive McCandless contributions and research interests in audiology went way beyond hearing aids.  He published reports on tympanometry and acoustic reflex measurements and their use in hearing aid evaluations, newborn and infant hearing testing including studies of the maturation of the stapedial reflex response, screening for otitis media in Native Americans of the Wind River area in Wyoming, auditory dysfunction in patients with facial paralysis, a descriptive report of the temporal bones in dinosaurs, and several studies involving cochlear implants. His research on the Symbion Ineraid Cochlear Implant helped to demonstrate the benefits of multi-channel implants over single channel devices.

Dr. McCandless had strong commitments to the professional issues of his time.  He served on a variety of editorial boards, served as President (1977-78) and Executive Board Member of American Auditory Society, and received many honors during his career.  He was a Fellow of ASHA and AAA, a recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Scholar award at University of Utah, and the Frank R. Kleffner Clinical Career Award from ASHA.  He served as a consultant to government agencies and participated as a committee member of many state, national and international initiatives.

An Amazing Person

But as much as we admired his audiology career, he astounded us with his outdoor activities. He set a high standard for living beyond the sound room, and we considered ourselves fortunate to accompany him on many of his outdoor adventures.  There was literally nothing he could not do — or fix or repair.    

In his retirement, along with his wife, Marsha (also a noted audiologist), they lived a full life in St. George, UT, complete with their extensive blended family of 7children, 14 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren.  An exceptional athlete, Geary ran in 25 marathons and qualified and ran in the Boston Marathon; he was a fabulous skier on both snow and water, yethe was always willing to slow down and coach those of us less skillful. Geary and Marsha loved the southwest and explored every corner of each state hiking and/or riding mountain bikes, dirt bikes or motorcycles.  As a licensed pilot, he owned and flew his own planes to remote locations, where they would disembark and bike or hike to high points and difficult summits or they would take the day to play the local golf course. They kayaked the caves of the Channel Islands and rafted the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Geary and Marsha spent much of their time boating at Lake Powell and spent many summers boating in the San Juan Islands of the Northwest US.  In their later years, they traveled the world extensively visiting more than 60 countries.

Dr. McCandless was an exemplary clinician, teacher, mentor, scientist, researcher and all-around good guy.  He influenced the lives of many of us in Colorado and Utah by serving on our thesis and dissertation committees, and as a personal friend.  Many of his students have continued in their careers to become leaders in the national audiology community.  His legacy will live on through the many colleagues he influenced.  A prolific contributor to the world of audiology, he truly lived his life as a Renaissance man.

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1 Comment

  1. All the blessings to Marsha and his family. When I first joined the University of Utah faculty, Geary welcomed me with his quiet and easy-going demeanor. He was always supportive of me in process of developing my own auditory lab at the Univesity, navigating through a maze of various university committees, etc. I am priviledged to be able to share his “intuitive” knowledge of auditory science and clinical audiology. His pioneering insight into hearing aid fitting is still applicable to this day. Thank you, Geary.

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